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You Won’t Get a Trophy, But Go Ahead—Fail

Starcea Gheorghe Silviu/

Atychiphobia: Have you heard of it?

It’s the irrational, constant, overwhelming fear of failure. Chances are you don’t have this condition. But if you’re a member of Gen Y (born in the early 1980s to early 2000s) you might experience a mild case from time to time.

When you’ve been handed a trophy just for participating, been graded on effort, or had your photo snapped for the local newspaper for not-always-stellar achievements, fear of failure can become overwhelming later in life.

This fear can’t go on forever, though, and you can’t use atychiphobia as an excuse. It’s a real phobia, but your boss will chalk that up alongside “the dog ate my homework.”

The Thing That Goes Bump in the Night

When you think about taking a new job in the big city, do your palms sweat? Do you get anxiety when you think about packing up and moving out? That’s normal. But if you don’t even apply for the position because you fear you won’t be considered, you have a problem.

Many Gen Y kids grew up being congratulated, honored and shown off. They might not have had opportunities to openly fail and embrace their stumble. If they did fail, it was swept under the rug. This abundance of forced success -- and the accompanying acknowledgement of that success -- created a wave of fear for these individuals now that they’re older and working in the real world.

There’s no cushion for failure in the real world. While your parents were concerned with your feelings, your employer’s more worried about his bottom line. Your boss isn’t going to send people home early for “great effort” on Fridays when the company’s losing profit quarter after quarter. He’s going to expect something more or different from you.

Because time has passed, you have to stop living under fear’s thumb. This excuse of Gen Yers everywhere needs to be eliminated. You might think your parents, boss or co-workers don’t understand what keeps you from doing your best work in all aspects of life. You’re right: they don’t. So get rid of the excuse and accept that failure is inevitable -- and might even be good for you.

Embrace the Fail

You may feel like your colleagues don’t understand you, but you don’t understand them either. Can you explain why your cubicle mate, Bob, stresses out when your boss mentions public speaking opportunities? Do you know why Mary shudders every time the end-of-the-month processes roll around? No, but you realize it's real fear. The difference is that Bob and Mary have accepted that these are their problems that they have to solve themselves. No one’s going to coddle them.

The great thing about being a Gen Yer is this: You’re young and have a lot of years left to fail and succeed. This makes it easy and perfectly acceptable to fail. You have days, months and years to try again. The deck is stacked in your favor to eventually succeed. It’s also possible that the people you work with aren’t a part of Gen Y, so learning from them is essential. Work to embrace new reactions you’ve never felt before: rejection, disappointment, and the excitement of starting over.

Once you fail -- and you will -- find a success hidden within that experience. There will always be something to learn from failure, and there will always be room for improvement. The real failure is in failing to improve. If you screwed up an important report, ask what went wrong. Once you’ve identified the problem, think of ways you can prevent it from happening again. Can you make a checklist? Can you ask Bob to double-check your figures after you’ve reviewed them? Should you start using spellcheck? Already, you’ve become a smarter and more capable person who shouldn’t be afraid to get back up and try again.

Failure will also help you find your passion. When you figure out what you’re not so great at doing or what truly doesn’t interest you, you become more self-aware. Step outside what you’ve been told to do or what you’re qualified for. What’s easy for you -- and earns you rewards and acknowledgment -- isn’t always the thing that’s going to fulfill you. Make that distinction and seek something fulfilling.

Letting Go

If you fear you won’t succeed, take a chance and try something new anyway. If you’re tired of authors writing books about Gen Yers being whiny and afraid of failure, make a difference. You may have always done what was expected of you -- but you don’t have to. Failure now will make your inevitable successes later so much sweeter.

Matthew Gordon, president and CEO of the Gordon Group in New York, writes for the Gen Y website Elite Daily.

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